In the wake of the Bill 60 debates currently taking place in Quebec, we suggest an analysis of the possible consequences, with regards to labour relations, of the Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests (“Charter“). Indeed, it is clear that this Bill may change the rules now applicable in the Quebec workplace.
According to the Charter, which is currently under general consultation, an employee of a public body must not, in the exercise of his or her functions, wear an object which overtly indicates a religious affiliation. The Charter also creates an obligation to have one’s face uncovered, for both the employee who is offering the service and the person who is receiving service, except for when accommodation is requested. Moreover, the Charter includes these obligations as labour standards and makes them public policy.
If it is adopted as currently written, the Charter will apply in broad scope to the public bodies and their personnel members. For instance, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, institutions governed by the Act respecting health and services and social services, Hydro-Québec and the Société des alcools du Québec will all be subject to the Charter, thus impacting thousands of jobs.
Moreover, the Charter also provides that in certain circumstances, a public body may require a person with whom it has entered into a service contract or subsidy agreement to fulfill the aforementioned obligations.
Modifications will also be brought to the applicable principles in cases of accommodation requests. The Charter contains a chapter which provides for rules with regards to the handling of accommodation requests by a public body. A particular policy has also been created for work absenteeism.
Bill 60 allows the government to make regulations to facilitate the implementations of the Charter of Quebec Values. The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms will also be modified.
Impact of the Charter in the workplace
The Charter will surely have some effects in the workplace. First of all, every public body subject to the Charter must adopt policies for its implementation. It is important to note that these policies should provide for the handling of a failure to comply with the provisions of the Charter, notably with regards to disciplinary aspects.
The section under which the Charter may be applicable to partnerships and persons should be considered as an important element if the Charter is adopted. Indeed, a partnership may have to require its employees to observe various restrictions pertaining to religious symbols and the obligation to have one’s face uncovered. Difficulties will surely arise from this situation with regards to possible disciplinary measures as a result of failing to respect these provisions.
One thing is certain: this Bill will continue to generate debate, especially considering the fact that some of the people involved have expressed their intention to challenge the constitutionality of the Charter.
Thanks to Pierre-Olivier Tremblay, student-at-law at Norton Rose Fulbright’s Montréal office for his contribution to this article.